Archive for the ‘Andy Berke’ Category

Democrats Announce First Phase of Job Creation Legislation

Thursday, October 6th, 2011


jobs tour

Democrats announce first phase of jobs package to put Tennesseans back to work.

 

Plan includes $15 million investment in state technology centers

NASHVILLE – Tennessee House and Senate Democrats announced the first phase of their job creation plan Thursday, which includes calling for $15 million for new equipment and program expansion at the state’s 27 technology centers.

“We heard about the success of our skills training across the state during our jobs tour, but the one thing we heard again and again was the need for more skilled workers,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh. “This investment would enable our technology centers to train more workers faster and get them a good education with an even better job.”

The state’s technology centers’ average completion rate is 75 percent, and the job placement rate is 85 percent. They have been recognized as a national model, but currently only 4 percent of all higher education students in Tennessee attend a technology center.

“The thousands of manufacturing jobs that have come back to Tennessee need a highly skilled workforce. We have the structure to provide that workforce, but we must provide the resources to meet the capacity needs,” said House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh. Now is the time to make this investment, because it will pay dividends for our workers and our state for a generation.”

Other legislation discussed by Democrats Thursday included:

  • The creation of a commercial properties database for prospective employers to quickly identify potential areas for relocation and expansion;
  • Doubling the capacity of the West Tennessee solar farm by 2013 to keep up with national competition;
  • Providing small businesses a sales tax holiday of up to $5,000 for equipment purchases and upgrades;
  • Fully funding the West Tennessee megasite, in order to give the Grand Division the same opportunities afforded Chattanooga with Volkswagen and Clarksville with Hemlock;
  • Providing a New Entrepreneur Tax Credit for new business owners to recover startup and expansion costs; and
  • A program modeled after the Georgia Works initiative that allows employers to train Tennesseans receiving unemployment benefits, with the goal of providing trainees expanded job opportunities and the potential for a full-time job.

Democrats noted that the initiatives discussed Thursday were only the first phase of an ongoing, bipartisan process to identify ways state government can play a role in job creation.

“We are in a jobs crisis right now, and we need all hands on deck to help sail the ship through these choppy waters,” said Senate Democratic Chairman Lowe Finney. “It’s going to take all of us working together to put Tennesseans back to work.”

 

 

An Overview of the 2011 General Assembly

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

After just five months of Republican control in the General Assembly and the Governor’s mansion, things in Tennessee are getting worse.

“How bad is it?” Wendi Thomas of The Memphis Commercial Appeal wrote. “It’s so bad I may have to say I’m from Mississippi.”

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In short, this year Republicans junked their promise to strengthen the state economy and help people find work in favor of ideological pet projects and radical social engineering that takes the wheels off the notion of responsible governance.

Democratic State Sen. Andy Berke summed it up this way:

“There are many things that we’ve done this year that are going to hurt Tennessee, and ultimately, the people who passed them will pay a cost for that… [Tennesseans] don’t want to see the radical agenda that is being pushed through.”

The Jobs Con

In 2010, Republicans campaigned on a platform of jobs, jobs, jobs. Less than one year later, the majority party buried its head in the sand and ignored the crisis facing 300,000 Tennesseans looking for work.

Since Republicans took charge, Tennessee’s unemployment rate has climbed to nearly 10 percent — even while across the nation, the jobs picture in 47 states has stabilized or improved. [Bloomberg, 5/20/11]

The response? Republicans systematically killed a dozen Democrat-sponsored jobs bills aimed at boosting the economy, including a popular sales tax holiday for small business purchases.

Then Governor Bill Haslam and Republicans slashed funding and fired 60 business recruiters at the Department of Economic & Community Development — the organization that lured international corporations like Volkswagen, Nissan, Amazon.com, and Hemlock to Tennessee, securing more than 200,000 jobs and $34 billion in economic investment.

And even further, Republicans endangered 3,900 new jobs and potentially two more Amazon.com distribution centers by threatening to renege on agreements made between the state and Amazon.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press:

“Legislators passed not a single bill that would improve job creation or put people back to work… The notion that lawmakers could leave Nashville celebrating such reversals and derogation of the needs of ordinary working people across the state is stunning. The only reason we can be glad that lawmakers finished the session is that it prevents them from wreaking more damage.”

Damage, indeed. Here is what happened:

ATTACKS ON TEACHERS & PUBLIC EDUCATION: The attacks on teachers and public education defined the Republicans first legislative session in power of both state houses.

“Last year we had Race to the Top. This year we have dive to the bottom.” – Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga

The session’s most contentious legislation was the Republican-led effort to repeal the collective bargaining rights of public school teachers. Teachers rallied by the thousands against measures that unfairly targeted them and the millions worth of spending cuts to public schools.

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh said the changes would be damaging for Tennessee students:

“Republicans have taken away the job security of our veteran teachers, stripped their ability to negotiate for things like text books, janitorial services & basic school supplies, opened the door to for-profit charter schools and nearly ripped millions from the public school system with a voucher proposal.

“Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey & his counterparts call this reform, but our teachers & the people of Tennessee know better. This is not reform; it’s regression.”

COLLECTIVE BARGAINING BAN: Republicans repealed the Education Professional Negotiations Act ending an era of teacher solidarity, one in which the TEA had bargained with school boards across a wide range of matters in most of the state’s school districts. As a result, our teachers are angry, demoralized and tire of being blamed for the problems facing our education system.

CHARTER SCHOOLS EXPANSION: Gov. Haslam and Republicans expanded charter schools, potentially hurting our neediest children and families by draining traditional public schools of top performers and resources.

VIRTUAL SCHOOLS: Virtual schools, online education run by for profit corporations that  poach millions of tax dollars from public schools. Online schools could be gateway to school vouchers.  Rep. Mike Stewart said it sets “a dangerous precedent” and  will lead to public school money being siphoned off by private for-profit corporations.

CAPS ON HOPE SCHOLARSHIP HOURS: With the cost of tuition increasing at Tennessee colleges and universities, the legislature decided to cut funding for student scholarships. The cap on the 120 hours paid for by the lottery scholarship has students and parents worried about how to pay for degrees that go over the limit.

LAVISH RAISES. Gov. Bill Haslam made cuts to important health programs while handing out more than $250,000 worth of raises to his top cronies, all of whom already made six-figure salaries. One commissioner even got a 32% raise — in his first week on the job!

LT. GOV. RAMSEY GAVE SECRET PAY RAISES TO STAFFERS, TOO: Not to be outdone by Gov. Haslam, Channel 4 News discovered that Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey approved pay increases for 18 senate staffers at the same time salaries were frozen for the other 42,825 state employees.

Channel 4 News: They just got it because Ramsey felt they deserved it. “There’s nothing wrong with that — nothing,” said Ramsey. [Channel 4 News,5/23/11]

WINED & DINED BY LOBBYISTS AT $500,000 WORTH OF PARTIES: Special interest groups spent at least $519,000 this year wining and dining state lawmakers. Last year, even though the legislative session was longer, only $390,000 was spent.

The view of Sen. Andy Berke:

“Special interests play an outsized role in our government and especially in our legislature… It’s difficult not to look at what goes on in the legislature and worry about the individual citizen having his proper say, also.”

TRIED TO CUT TAXES FOR WEALTHY FRIENDS: Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey filed a bill that would have gave his millionaire friend and campaign donor a $270,000 property tax break on high-end real estate in Rutherford County. [The Daily News Journal, 4/10/2011]

USED TAX DOLLARS TO BUILD ROADS FOR SPECIAL FRIENDS: Days into office, Gov. Haslam brokered a backroom deal to have the Tennessee Department of Transportation build a private road to a well-heeled Republican business owner. Seeing it as a waste of taxpayer money to build a road for the benefit of a single business, Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen refused to pay for the road for six years. [KnoxNews.com, 4/3/11]

PROTECTED PREJUDICE: The GOP gave into the radical right-wing of its party, bowing to demands to overturn Metro-Nashville Council’s CANDO ordinance that required businesses with city contracts to employ non-discrimination hiring policies. Major businesses, such as Nissan and FedEx, criticized Republicans for their overreach, stating that their companies are committed to equal rights and protections for all Tennesseans. Furthermore, the Senate passed Stacey Campfield’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill which, as originally introduced, would make it illegal for teachers to even mention homosexuality before the 9th grade, even if to address bullying at the school. [WPLN, 5/24/11]

ATTACKS ON VICTIMS: By setting an arbitrary cap on the damages a citizen jury can award, Republicans put a price of $29 a day on the lives of victims who suffer horrific injuries at the hands of reckless corporations or medical malpractice.

Tennesseans are not interested in protecting reckless corporations from the damage they do, they want to protect the rights of victims and hold corporations responsible for their actions.

Caps on jury awards was Haslam’s pet project — perhaps because his multi-million dollar business is tied up in a lawsuit stemming from a citizen being killed at a Pilot gas station owned by the governor. [WSMV.com, 3/2/11]

ATTACKS ON WOMEN’S PRIVACY: If the constitutional amendment Senate Joint Resolution 127 is approved by voter referendum in 2014, Tennessee’s constitution would no longer protect a woman’s right to an abortion — even in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother.

ATTACKS ON WOMEN’S HEALTH: In a partisan witch hunt Republicans defunded Planned Parenthood in Tennessee. The callous decision will cut more than $1 million worth of funding that provides medical exams, cancer screenings, tests and treatment for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, family planning, counseling and birth-control services for more than 5,000 residents every year.

ATTACKS ON THE OUTDOORS: Republicans killed common-sense legislation that would outlaw the destructive practice of mountaintop removal in Tennessee and preserve our scenic vistas, the water we drink, and the air we breath for generations to come.

ATTACKS ON RELIGION: In an affront to the American principal of religious tolerance, Sen. Bill Ketron’s “anti-terrorism bill,” originally outlawed some practices of Islam and sparked demonstrations by Tennessee Muslims. The bill was amended twice — once to delete any references to religion and then again to merely restate what’s already in federal law.

ATTACKS ON LOCAL GOVERNMENT: In a move that would seem to contradict their constant calls for limited government, Republicans expanded government control over cities by blocking the Memphis City Schools-Shelby County Schools merger that was passed overwhelmingly by a voter referendum and overturned Metro-Nashville Council’s CANDO ordinance that required businesses with city contracts to employ non-discrimination hiring policies.

ATTACKS ON ACCOUNTABLE ELECTIONS: House Bill 386 gutted the Voter Confidence Act, a law that was passed with broad bipartisan support to protect the integrity of our electoral process. The Voter Confidence Act made it mandatory for county election commissions to use voting machines that produce a verifiable paper trail in case of a recount.

ATTACKS ON FREE ELECTIONS: Republicans reduced the number of days in early voting and passed a photo ID requirement that has been called an unconstitutional “poll tax.” The photo ID requirement will make it harder for seniors, students and those who don’t drive to exercise their voting right.

ATTACKS ON FAIR ELECTIONS: On the same day the Senate passed a bill to allow corporations to donate to individual candidates, it banned the Tennessee Education Association from collecting political dues. Corporations were given more of a voice while teachers were silenced. Loud and clear, Republicans said: “Corporations deserve a bigger say in Tennessee elections than people.” Tennessee will now have contribution limits among the highest of any state.

NEXT YEAR

Haslam and Republican leaders have nearly eight months until the 107th General Assembly reconvenes in January to conspire new ways to put special interests before the interest of Tennesseans.

Rep. Mike Stewart on the upcoming legislative session in 2012:

“A lot of this stuff was just pushed off to next year. There’s no chance that we won’t be back arguing about guns on college campuses, anti-union measures again next year.”

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey confirmed our worst fears:

“Tennessee Republicans have talked a lot about what we would do when we took power. Now we are showing what we can do. This year was just an appetizer. Next year, and in the years to come, you will see the main course.”

RADICAL LEGISLATION YOU CAN EXPECT TO SEE IN 2012

CLASS SIZE INCREASES: Governor Haslam is already on the record of saying he is in favor of lifting the cap on class sizes. To handle more students, all you need is a “great teacher,” Haslam says. As if Tennessee didn’t already have great teachers.

PRIVATE SCHOOL VOUCHERS: Sen. Brian Kelsey sponsored a bill that failed this year to allow taxpayer money to be spent on private schools (including parochial schools), poaching money away from students in public schools.

GUNS ON CAMPUSES: A bill uniformly opposed by ALL Tennessee universities and university police departments would allow guns to be carried on campuses, potentially putting students at risk.

ARIZONA STYLE IMMIGRATION LAWS: We will likely see a new version of House Bill 1380, which was inspired by the controversial Arizona law. The law would give state and local law enforcement officers unprecedented authority over our civil rights by allowing an officer to make a determination if you look like an American. The Arizona law has brought on expensive legal battles and cost the state millions of dollars worth of lost tourism.

A TAKE OVER OF MEDICARE: The state Senate voted recently to take the first step toward ending Medicare as we know it in Tennessee by calling for a radical plan called a “health-care compact.” Such a plan would handover Medicare to the state, potentially leading to thousands of seniors losing benefits, being denied coverage, or simply falling through the cracks.

Money Buys Access, Access is Power

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

The Branches of Government

Political reporters this weekend reported on the overwhelming influence of money in state politics.

Long story short: with Republicans in charge, there’s more money — from rich and powerful interests — in state politics than ever before.

And with the new GOP rules that raise contribution limits and allow direct donations from businesses, the influence of special interest groups — not hard-working citizens who can’t afford lobbyists — is only going to increase.

“Lobbyists had busy year in Nashville,” Times Free Press:

Special interests this year spent millions of dollars seeking to influence the Tennessee General Assembly on issues ranging from a proposed cap on personal injury lawsuit awards to letting grocery stores sell wine, records show.

Fights in these and other areas, including education policy and telecommunications competition, often played out not only in committee rooms and on the House and Senate floor but behind the scenes in lawmakers’ offices, legislative corridors and sometimes lavish receptions for lawmakers.

Groups also spent money in more public ways with studies, telemarketing campaigns and advertising aimed at encouraging the public to pressure legislators.

In the view of Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga: “Special interests play an outsized role in our government and especially in our legislature.”

Obviously, what we do affects wholesale industries, but it’s difficult not to look at what goes on in the legislature and worry about the individual citizen having his proper say, also,” Berke said.

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, countered that lobbyists represent Tennesseans who don’t have time to come to the legislature every day.

It’s good for anyone to get their story in front of the legislators, especially the legislators that aren’t necessarily familiar with the issue. In that way, I think just anyone coming to see you would be helpful to their cause,” McCormick said.

Moreover, he said, “We can’t stop people from lobbying. I think the First Amendment makes it clear that people can come lobby, so we have set up a system where they have to at least report who’s paying them.

Nearly $520,000 was spent in total. That’s according to filings on the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance website. But it was only a fraction of lobbying costs. The reporting period came seven weeks before the May 21 end of the legislative session, so many totals will be higher.

Other lobby disclosures reveal scrambling by Amazon.com to fend off lawmakers and retailers who hoped to force it to collect state sales taxes at distribution centers it is building in Chattanooga and Bradley County.

Amazon increased its lobbying staff from one to 10, records show.

AT AN ADVANTAGE

Dick Williams with the watchdog group Tennessee Common Cause, said that when combined with campaign contributions, groups that lobby at the Capitol have an advantage.

Businesses, in particular, benefit, he said.

It just flies in the face that lobbying and contributions don’t influence legislation,” Williams said. Companies “want to get results that directly affect their bottom line.”

“$519,000 Used To Entertain State Lawmakers,” WSMV:

Special interest groups spent at least $519,000 this year wining and dining state lawmakers. Last year, even though the legislative session was longer, only $390,000 was spent.

You’ve got a lot of new legislators that special interests or lobbying groups want to ‘educate’ to their issues,” said Dick Williams of Common Cause of Tennessee, a voter watchdog group.

The five of the most expensive events were:

  • The Farm Bureau spent more than $23,000 on a luncheon
  • AT&T shelled out $22,000 for a reception
  • The Hospital Association spent $18,000
  • The School Board Association
  • The Chamber of Commerce reported events costing $17,000.

AT&T had a bill opposed by small phone companies up in the Legislature. The hospital association was a big backer of capping lawsuit damages. The School Board Association was the force behind this year’s most controversial issue: ending collective bargaining for teachers.

“Corporations and for-profit companies don’t spend that kind of money on something they don’t feel is going to bring them some return either financial or otherwise,” said Williams.

“Interest groups wined, dined TN lawmakers,” The Tennessean:

Special interest groups and lobbyists, ranging from the Tennessee Concrete Association to the Tennessee Bar Association, hosted 75 events, according to reports filed with the Tennessee Ethics Commission.

“We’re always dealing with concentrated benefits and distributed costs,” said community activist and tea party leader Ben Cunningham. “That’s the reality of government. Everybody pays for it, and in many cases the recipients of government largess are small groups, small corporations … who can justify spending huge amounts of money on attaining special favors. That’s the nature of the beast.”

Money buys access

Cunningham said the average citizen has a difficult time getting the attention of his state senator or representative the way special interest groups can with expensive events.

“Money means access, and access means power,” Cunningham said. “That is very much true in politics today. It’s probably going to continue to be true, unfortunately.”

Other expensive events were held by corporations including AT&T, which hosted a reception with an open bar and hors d’oeuvres, at a cost of $22,406.39.

RELATED ARTICLES

Chattanooga Times Free Press Rails Against Bank Influence. “It’s pretty obvious that the Republican-dominated Tennessee General Assembly puts the interests of banks ahead of those of the average Tennessean. Why else would legislators be in such a rush to approve a law that would significantly reduce the advance warning home-owners receive before their property is foreclosed? The only plausible explanation is that legislators are far more willing to do the bidding of the well-heeled bankers and their lobbyists than to properly serve and protect those who elected them to office. [“Foreclosure bill is bad law,” Chattanooga Times Free Press Editorial Board, 5/13/11]

Gov. Bill Haslam Hosts GOP Fundraiser During Legislative Session. The lavish soirée was held March 31 at the governor’s mansion in the “the party room.” Tickets ranged from $3,000 to $25,000. [Humphrey on the Hill, May 23, 2011]

Haslam Flaunts Fundraising Ethics Rules. State law bans fundraising by legislators while the General Assembly is in session. It was passed years ago to address public perceptions that lawmakers were “shaking down” special interests with business being considered by the legislature. [Chattanooga Times Free Press, 3/22/11]

Teacher Appreciation

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

This week Republican lawmakers in Tennessee moved one step closer to silencing the voice of teachers — but they also took one step back.

Radical Republicans in the Senate passed a plan to do away with collective bargaining, banning teachers from advocating for instruction prep time, reasonable class sizes and more one-on-one instruction.

Sen. HerronBut the plan stalled Tuesday in a House committee. Now we have a chance to protect teachers’ rights and keep radical Republicans from setting our schools back four decades. We need to act fast.

Click here to call or email members of the House Education Committee. Tell them “collective bargaining works for Tennessee students!”

It’s a sad irony that attacks on educators come during Teacher Appreciation Week, a time when we should be honoring those who educate and inspire our youth.

Show teachers your appreciation by calling or emailing the House Education Committee and ask them to vote to protect teachers’ rights.

Many Tennesseans are shocked that their Republican representatives would work to weaken teachers’ rights and privatize education.

During impassioned speeches on Monday, Sens. Andy Berke, Roy Herron, Lowe Finney and Eric Stewart stood up for teachers and stood up for what is right.

Their words are encouraging and, after you call the House Education Committee, we want you to see what our senators said:

Sen. Andy Berke, District 10:

“We advance student achievement when we work together with teachers and stakeholders toward a common purpose, not when we attack them.”

Sen. Roy Herron, District 24:

There are things we need to do in education and all of them revolve around good quality teachers… For the life of me, I cannot see how taking away teachers’ voices on important issues encourages people to go into teaching.”

Sen. Lowe Finney, District 27:

“Ladies and gentlemen, we ought to be about the business of making teachers our partners because it’s going to affect those students who sit in that classroom.”

Sen. Eric Stewart, District 14:

“Teachers are expected to reach goals that are unattainable with resources that are often inadequate, but the miracle is most times they accomplish the impossible.”